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Zfte %oq of a Halifax privateer 

By Archibald MacMechan 

Published for the Author by H. H. MARSHALL 
at his Shop over against the PROVINCE 
HOUSE in Halifax, N. S., 1920. 


^> 0£ <&* 

(Purchased pr me Xwh£ 'Pitra fylkdticnL. 
at Q loot's University aumt 


It lies before me as I write, — the old log-book 
of a forgotten eighteenth century privateer. 
Before Poland disappeared from the map of 
Europe, before the Thirteen Colonies became 
the United States of America, before Quebec fell, 
and with it the power of France in the new 
world, this venerable sea document had been 
drawn up and laid away. It is curious to look 
at; its very appearance suggests the sea. The 
half-quire or so, of blank leaves are stitched into 
a bit of old sail-cloth, coarse in grain, and of a 
very "precious" dusty brown colour. Bits of 
red official wax stick here and there; for in the 
presence of one of His Majesty George II 's 
Justices of the Peace, the keeper of the log 
made oath that he had kept a true record; and 
the log-book was duly sealed and stored up in 
the archives of Halifax. 

A century after, a curious generation ap- 
pointed a commission which broke these seals; 
and now anyone may read therein, — if he be 
skilled in paleography, — and patient. The ink 
is faded, and the straggling writing and frequent 
blots tell their own tale of the good ship labouring 
in the heavy seas, as the painful quill of the 
sailor scribe slowly traced these pages. As one 
deciphers the meagre entries, an obscure and 
forgotten chapter in our history is opened to 
his view; but though obscure and forgotten, it is 
both significant and typical. Up to the present 
time, privateering, though a large part of naval 
warfare and a legitimate form of mercantile 
speculation, has remained unrecorded. Logs and 
other sources of information were not given to 
the public; it was to the interest of all concerned 
to keep them strictly private. These tattered 
pages can tell a remote and peaceful generation 
what privateering really was. The old log-book 
has another interest. It carries the mind back 
to the great struggle of the Seven Years War, — 
the struggle that gave scope to the genius of 
Pitt, of Wolfe, of Carlyle's Frederick, — the 
struggle which grew from a skirmish on the 
borders of the Anerican wilderness into a conflict 

as wide as the world, and drew with it the most 
momentous and far-reaching consequences. 

My title may perhaps raise hopes that are 
doomed to disappointment. The log-book of a 
privateer suggests Smol'ett, Marry at and Clark 
Russell; but I have no lengthened tale of desper- 
ate encounters at long odds, of hairbreadth 
escapes and rich prizes. The record consists 
of some half-dozen folio pages, comparatively 
barren in events, and couched in the plain 
phrase of an unromantic Jack tar. But in this 
very plainness lies its chief attraction; for the 
curt, unpretending jottings deal with fact, and 
reveal the privateersman's every day life more 
eloquently than the novelist's most labored 
narrative. By piecing out the various entries 
with information derived from other sources, 
it is possible to reconstruct, in part, at least, 
the story of this particular cruise. 

On November 16th, 1756, six months after 
the declaration of war, Robert Saunderson and 
Malachy Salter, merchants of Halifax, obtained 
a lettei of marque for the hundred ton schooner 
Lawrence, which they owned and had fitted out 
as a "private vessel of war." A letter of marque 
empowered a vessel to make war on her own 

account for the benefit of her owners; and this 
was only granted after Malachy Salter, Robert 
Saunderson and Captain Rous had given a 
bailbond for fifteen hundred pounds, good English 
money, to guarantee the fulfilment of the con- 
ditions on which the letter of marque was 
granted. The Lawrence was to bring all her 
prizes to Halifax to be adjudged in the Vice- 
Admiralty court, was to report all information 
she might obtain as to the enemy's move- 
ments, and to keep an accurate log. On Nov. 
16th, the privateer was ready for sea. 

The Lawrence was named evidently out of 
compliment to the governor of the province, 
under whose hand and seal her license to carry 
on private war was issued. She was victualled 
for six months and carried a crew of about one 
hundred men. Her armament consisted of 
fourteen little carronades, throwing a four- 
pound ball, and twenty swivels. These last were 
small pieces of ordnance, in some cases no larger 
than a good-sized blunderbuss. Sometimes they 
were provided with flare mouths to make 
the charge spread, and were mounted on light 
carriages which could easily be trundled about 
the decks. They were perched on the bulwarks 

sometimes, and even in the tops. Like the 
various machine-guns of the present day, they 
were intended for use at close quarters, to repel 
boarders, or to cover the rush of their attack. 
There were besides "furniture and ammunition 
in proportion for a six months cruise." Furni- 
ture is a word used in the Elizabethan navy. 
It means armourer's and gunner's stores. 

The officers of our licensed pirate were 
Captain Joseph Rous, Robinson Ford, lieutenant, 
and Andrew Gardner, mate. Gardner kept the 
log. He was evidently a plain seaman, more 
familiar with cutlass hilt and rope's end than 
pen and ink and the mysteries of the spelling- 
book. Dr. Johnson's celebrated dictionary had 
been published only the year before, but it is 
quite unlikely that the great lexicographer's two 
stout quartos formed part of the little Laurences 
"furniture" for her six months cruise. The 
honest sailor's grammar is unfettered by pedantic 
rules. His spelling is phonetic and never tamely 
consistent. His hand of write is none of the 
best, even when his vessel is at anchor; but when 
she is bucketing about in a gale, his hierogh- 
phics require a second Champollion. Of Lieut- 
enant Robinson Ford I have no facts to com- 

municate. The records are dumb concerning" 
him. Rous, the commander belongs apparently 
to a breed of sea-dogs, of which our early records 
make frequent mention. Captain John Rous, 
for example, was a man of mark in his time. 
From being the commander of a colonial priva- 
teer, he rose to the rank of captain in the Royal 
Navy. He was present at the first capture of 
Louisbourg in 1745, carried the news of that 
brilliant exploit to England, and received speedy 
promotion for his services. When Halifax was 
founded, he was Cornwallis's right hand. Any 
particularly difficult job was given to Rous. 
He assisted in the second capture of Louisbourg 
in 1 756 and in the more famous capture of Quebec 
the next year. It was from his ship that Wolfe 
issued his last order. Rous himself died a year 
later in Halifax. 

The likeness between his career and that of 
Joseph Rous seems to point to likeness in blood. 
His name also occurs in documents relating to 
the founding of Halifax. He was agent for the 
Lunenburg settlers, held various commands, and, 
in his old age apparently, was made keeper of 
the lighthouse at Sambro and Captain of the 
Port. It would seem, then, that while his 

services were appreciated, his cruises had not 
made him a wealthy man. In the entries of 
these appointments, he is styled 'gentleman* and 
'senior.' A junior Joseph Rous emerges as 
captain of the pilot schooner Dolphin, in 1753. 
Unless he is the son of Joseph Rous senior, the 
distinction would be meaningless. Even a fourth 
of the name, one William Rous, crops up as 
commander of the Anson schooner, in 1750. 
It would seem safe to infer that the Rous family 
took naturally to seafaring, and were men of 
ability and trust. 

So much for the officers: what of the crew? 
No record of their names has reached the scribe, 
but something is known of them in the lump. 
That the new fiat city on the shores of Bate saine 
was settled by trade-fallen soldiers and sailors 
is known to all; but the war in which they fought 
is forgotten. England has fought so many wars. 
This was worthy of memory because it was pre- 
cipitated by a tale of outrage upon a single 
Englishman. It saw for the last time a King of 
England in battle, fighting at the head of his 
men. It lasted nine years. One incident was 
the vain attempt of the handsome, gallant heir 
of the Stuarts to regain the English throne, a 

fruitful source of song and story. As epitaph 
for the fallen was composed the most beautiful 
requiem ever written for the heroes in an English 

How sleep the brave who sink to rest 
By all their country's wishes blest. 

But who remembers how "Old Grog" made 
good his boast of taking Porto Bello with six 
ships of the line? Who remembers how Anson 
repeated the exploits of Drake and Cavendish 
in the South Pacific; sailing round the world, 
and bringing home Spanish treasure, which 
thirty-two waggons could hardly carry from 
Plymouth to London? Yet among the many 
"mariners" who filled the famous thirteen 
transports were men who had sailed in H. M. S. 
Hampton Court which led the line into the 
narrow entrance of Porto Bello, and H. M. S. 
Burjord, the fourth, which carried Vernon's 
flag right up to the guns of the Spanish forts. 
There were men who had sailed in the Centurion. 
In the list are the proud old names which date 
from Elizabeth's navy — Dreadnought, Revenge, 
Rainbow, Tiger, Vanguard — and which were des- 
tined to win new glory under Nelson and Jellicoe. 

It was men from these ships who first settled 
Halifax, and manned the little Lawrence. The 
governor complained that there were no laboring 
men in the town; they had all gone privateering. 
Accustomed to the unspeakably rough, hard, 
roving life of the old navy, these mariners could 
not settle down into peaceful husbandmen or 
fishers. The "King s hard bargains" most of 
them undoubtedly were; life ashore did not suit 
them; the breath of war blew in their ears, and 
they took to the sea again. 

Thus victualled, armed, officered and man- 
ned, the Lawrence sailed out of Halifax harbor 
some time in November, 1 756 to do battle with 
the enemies of King George the Second on the 
high seas. What she did between that time and 
the following spring, whether she was lucky 
in the way of prizes or not, I cannot tell. But on 
March 22nd, 1757, she was at anchor in the 
port of George's, Bermuda. On that day, 
Andrew Gardner, mate, wrote the heading of a 
new log, the old one probably having been 
deposited with the authorities of that port. 
The blank pages were ruled like a modern log- 
book, with columns at the side for the hours and 

knots, and a wider space for the remarks. The 
heading that Andrew wrote was this: 

"A Log and Journal of Our Intened Cruze 
by the Permison of God in (end of leaf gone). 
Against His Majest Enemis the Freeh in the 
Lawranes Schoones Prived Vessel of Ware 
Joseph Rous Commander from Bermuda, March 
22, 1757 Cap Cept by me Andrew Gardner." 

The next day at noon the Lawrence weighed 
anchor and got under sail in a very leisurely 
fashion. The little four-pounders banged away 
in a nine-gun salute to the town and were an- 
swered by a single gun from the shore. A 
certain captain "Hale" and "severile gentlemen" 
were on board, no doubt discussing the chances of 
prize-money, and drinking success to the run. 
When the schooner crossed the bar, she hove to, 
sent the gentlemen ashore, and paid them the 
compliment of a five-gun salute. We were 
ceremonious in those old days. Then she bore 
away for Halifax, and at six o'clock in the 
evening the eastern end of the island was four 
leagues astern. The clear weather which 
permitted Andrew Gardner to make the good 
observation he noted with satisfaction, continued 
next day, and the Lawrence bowled along with a 

following wind. On Friday, the "modred and 
clear weather" continuing, the privateer sighted 
at one o'clock a strange sail, apparently a full- 
rigged ship, a Frenchman for he carried a tier 
of round ports. The little wasp of a Lawrence 
manoeuvred to windward of the stranger, and 
then, with the British ensign flying, bore down 
on her expected prize. Still he showed no colors, 
as a peaceable and friendly trader should have 
done. The failure to respond to signals was 

"So our Capt. Desird the peple to get Redey 
for we were almost alongside he gave orders to 
fire 2 Guns." 

The range was short, and the Lawrence s 
gunners, doubtless old men-o'-war's men, were 
skilful or lucky, for both shots got home. 

"One went threw his foremast and the 
other carid 2 of his fore srouds." 

Seeing that the little schooner was very 
much in earnest, the stranger then "hell ope his 
Colors," which apparently were English, or 
Dutch. A parley ensued. 

The two vessels remained alongside, till the 
stranger captain told Rous that he hailed from 
Charleston, South Carolina, which was still one 

of our American plantations. This was not suffi- 
cient for the privateersman. The stranger was 
ordered to heave to, and send his captain and 
his papers on board. 

4 'Then Capt. Rous examined them and 
found he cleared out as he said." 

Evidently the merchantman did not much 
relish being run down and fired into without 
word or warning; for honest Andrew records 
that "he v/as very Sasey and yoused Capt. 
Rouse with Bad Langwich," emphasizing the 
stranger's curious incivility with capitals, 
"which," he continues with a delicious flavor of 
Bret Harte, "Capt, Rouse ordered the Liftand 
and I to go into the Bote and Examen the 
peple and Shartch the Shipe which wee did." 
As she lay helpless under the guns of the priva- 
teer, the unlucky trader from Charleston, S. C. 
could do nothing but submit. Evidently there 
were high words; Rous would not be altogether 
mute, and the "Sascy"-ness of the merchant 
captain only provoked him into further annoy- 
ance. In passing, it would be interesting to 
know approximately how bad was the deep-sea 
"Langwich," which would excite remark in a 
salt of the eighteenth century. Robinson Ford 

and Gardner found only two English sailors and 
two Frenchmen on board; the ?est were Dutch. 
These four they brought back to the schooner's 
quarter-deck, where Captain Rous questioned 
them to see if their tales agreed with the ship's 
papers; and "wee found" (to our visible regret) 
that "we cold not make a prise of her." 

It was too bad that the little mistake had 
occurred, and Captain Rous does all in his power 
to make amends. He sent the stranger captain 
and his four seamen back to their ship, with 
Gardner and two carpenters. But the other 

captain turned sulky. Gardner records that he 
"was note willing to go on Bord." Perhaps he 
had some notion of getting compensation for the 
injury and delay. Rous was not to be trifled with. 
"But Captain Rous ordered him in the Bote," 
and, — "wee went." Till dark the two carpenters 
were busy cutting up a spar to fish the wounded 
foremast. Night came on before the work was 
finished, and they returned to the Lawrence, 
leaving the stranger to mend his mast, and 
proceed on his voyage as best he might. It 
must have been at the close of this eventful 
day that Andrew Gardner sat down in the cabin 
to write out his version of the affair. The entry 

is the longest and most graphic. Evidently there 
were several "scenes," and many strange oaths. 
If we could only fish up from its corner in Davy 
Jones's locker the corresponding entry in the 
stranger's log! 

The same night the privateersmen had again 
hopes of booty. Another sail was sighted, but 
the Lawrence was becalmed and could not make 
chase. At ten, a light breeze sprang up, and, 
at half-past twelve, they sighted the stranger 
again. The watch below were called from their 
hammocks, and the decks were cleared for action. 
By two o'clock, they had overhauled the chase 
and found, no doubt to their intense disgust, 
that she was a schooner ten days out from 
Jamaica. The rules of the war-game do not 
permit making prizes of our own ships, so the 
Lawrence had to shorten sail, and proceed, 
prizeless, on her course. 

By this time, the schooner had reached the 
stormy northern latitudes and was rearing the 
Nova Scotian coast at the very worst season 
of the year. From March 27th till April 5th, 
the Lawrence was battling with a succession of 
storms a landsman would call them. But 
Andrew Cardner was not an emotional person; 

he never errs on the side of over-statement. 
He admits there was a "gale" now and then; he 
will go so far as to say the wind was "fresh;" 
but from various happenings on board, it is 
easy to infer the actual state of affairs. First, 
it is found necessary to "house" the guns, that 
is, run them inboard, and lash them fast with 
their nosei> held immoveably against the inside 
of the bulwarks. Then the weather is noted 
as being dark and cloudy, with "a very large 
Seee from the \V. Bord." We must proceed 
cautiously, with two reefs in the foresail and three 
in the mainsail; and under such reduced canvas 
the little Lawrence climbs the huge seas "from 
the W. Bord" in the rolling forties. 

On Wednesday, March 30th, just a week 
after leaving Bermuda, the entry in the log is 
very ill-written and the lines straggle away to 
one corner. Plainly it was no easy task to drive 
the quill across the paper as the vessel rolled 
and jumped about in the rough sea. Then came 
two days of rain squalls and variable winds. 
Suddenly the wind shifted and then died away. 
In the lively pitching which followed, the 
Lawrence racked her bowsprit out. Her crew 
had barely time to secure it and make repairs 

when the gale was upon them again. With a 
mere rag of canvas showing, a double-reefed 
foresail, thie privateer scudded before the storm, 
or lay to, and hoped for better weather. 

On Friday, six of her guns and all her 
twenty swive's had to be lowered into the hold 
to steady her and to take the weight off her deck. 
From the flocks of gulls about the ship, "the 
executive" feared they were too near some coast 
to be safe, but the leadsman could find no 
bottom at ninety fathoms. By this time, the 
rigging was beginning to show signs of strain. 
There was a succession of more or less serious 
accidents. On Saturday, the clue of the mainsail 
broke off short, and it took two hours to repair 
the damage. For Sunday, the entry reads, 
"a hard Gale of Wind and Raine and Squales 
of Snow and Very Cold." On this day the 
topping-lift block on the main boom split, and 
the schooner was hove to until it was replaced. 
From all this, the legitimate inference would 
seem to be that the Lawrence was a staunch 
craft to survive such a buffeting, and that her 
crew were as stout as her timbers. 

On Tuesday, April 5th, the wind moderates 
in the afternoon, and land is seen on the weather 

bow. It is Cape "Heare," and for the first 
time in ten days the Lawrence was able to shake 
out all her reefs, and carry all her small sails. 
By noon next day, she is abreast of Cape Negro, 
and the weather is again "mored and clear." 
They are now in Nova Scotian waters, and, after 
their two disappointments and the long siege 
of rough weather, fickle Fortune smiled for a 
moment on the privateersmen. They actually 
have a brush with a genuine Frenchman. On 
Wednesday they sighted a strange sail making 
towards them under a cloud of canvas, carrying 
even his "ringtail," a narrow little "kite" rigged 
outside the spanker, and his driver," the square 
sail underneath the bowsprit. The Lawrence 
stood on, hoisted her six guns out of the hold, and 
"got all ready to in Gadge." As soon as the 
Frenchman was near enough to get a good look 
at the schooner's swarming decks, and wicked 
looking guns, he sheered off and changed his 
course. The Bourbon Lilies and St. George's 
Cross fluttered out in defiance of each other; the 
stranger discharged his larboard broadside, doing 
apparently no damage, and the privateer replied 
with all the starboard guns she could bring 
to bear. The Frenchman ran for it; but the 

British ship was not so speedy. In her very 
thorough preparation for a hard fight, the 
Lawrence had "crotched her booms," to give 
more elbow room on deck. The consequent 
delay in making sail gave the foreigner a great 
advantage and enabled him to escape. Gardner's 
note reads, "We Cold not tell which went best, 
but it Brest (breezed?) oup and we seemed to 
gain upon him but nite Coming one and it being 
dark we lost site of him our Cheas was a sloop 
of 8 or 10 Gones." With a touch of imagination 
he adds," we Jodged (Jogged?) along our Corse 
along shore at 6 Cloake Cape le Have Bore N." 
The encounter shows the spirit of the privateer, 
for the sloop was a full-rigged sloop-of-war, the 
the size below a frigate, and yet the Lawrence 
did not hesitate to tackle her. Godfrey of the 
Rover privateer, after consulting his crew, sailed 
into a clump of six hostile armed vessels, nearly 
fifty years later. 

The next day, the Lawrence anchored 
in Halifax harbor opposite the Governor's 
Battery at the foot of George St., and her cruise 
was over. On April 23rd. Andrew Gardner 
appeared before John Duport, Esquire, J. P., 
and swore that his log as aforesaid, was "a just 

and true Journal of the Cruize from the time of 
the said Privateer's sailing from the Port of 
Bermuda to her arrival at the Port of Halifax." 
Then this rough record of the Lawrence s 
voyage was laid away in the provincial archives 
for a century and a half. Of the hundred men 
who trod her decks, and worked her in fair 
weather and foul, and stood to her guns, each 
with his own history and passions and hopes, if 
only for a fair run and plenty of prize money, 
only this frail memorial remains, — of interest 
to none but the curious antiquary. 



This paper appeared first in Acadiensis, 
July, IQ02. It has been revised and re- written 
with important additions. In preparing my 
material I received invaluable assistance from 
the late Captain John Taylor Wood, of Talla- 
hassee fame. 

A. M. M. 


* 1 

Three Sea Songs 


The Nova-Scolianess of Nova Scotia * 


Changing Halifax 


The Memorial Tower 

* 5 

The Orchards of Ultima Thule 

* 6 

The Log of a Halifax Privateer 


f Clamming 

The Nereid's Embrace, 
{ The Two Games 


The Loss of the Atalante 


" Nova Scarcity " 


f The Pleasance 

\From Minas to the Wotan Line 


f The Sky-Line 
{Old King's 


f Spring in Ultima Thule 
I The Potato Patch 


The Luck of the Grilse 


Twelve Profitable Sonnets 


Twelve Unprofitable Sonnets 


Afoot in Ultima Thule 

* Already published